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The Kenyan presidential election that was overturned by the Supreme Court has raised serious questions about the agendas of foreign election observers. Many of the observers were quick to give the poll a clean bill of health – even urging opposition leader Raila Odinga to concede. Now they are facing credibility crisis. The European Union’s Marietje Schaake has been trying to save face.

Dear Marietje Schaake

I read in the Star of September 6 your attempt to excuse the woeful performance of the foreign observer missions during the recent elections. ‘Egg on face’ clearly resonates with you. It’s an embarrassment, isn’t it?

You say it is important to reflect on your role. Indeed it is, and I hope you and your colleagues will do so in more realistic terms than your article implies is possible.

You have attempted to use the old cop-out of confirming your ‘impartiality’ by saying that you ‘frequently get criticism from both sides’. This actually has very little to do with the issue under discussion.

You are not primarily accused of being partisan. You are accused of doing nothing of value prior to the elections, of doing nothing but superficial observation during the elections, and of issuing nonsensical and unjustified messages of approval before the election process was actually completed and also afterwards.

What you actually did prior to the elections, by your own admission, was to issue the same tired old public-relations mantras: calling on the electoral commission to work transparently, calling on the police not to use undue force in dealing with the public, calling on those aggrieved to seek justice in the courts and so on.

Did you really think these little homilies were going to make any difference to the conduct of the elections? I can’t believe you did. But that is just what diplomats in Africa do in these circumstances, isn’t it – issue valueless and patronising little sermons at enormous cost to taxpayers somewhere.

You say you raised difficult questions prior to the elections, including with the government. Really? None was reported. Do tell us what these ‘difficult questions’ were, what responses you got and how you checked the credibility of those responses.

What about the other questions you ought to have been asking? Did you raise questions and continue to raise questions about how and why Chris Msando, who had the key role in developing the new electronic ballot and voter-registration systems at the electoral commission, was tortured and killed just over a week before the elections?

Why was he killed? Why was he tortured? Was it to extract information from him regarding the electronic system? Did it not strike you, when stakeholders began highlighting glaring faults and anomalies in the vote-transmission system, that this was related? Did you raise questions about it? Did you not have cause to wonder about it again, when the police found and continued to find “no leads” in this shocking murder case?

You did not. Msando’s murder was like ‘a passing cloud’, to use a time-honoured Kenyan phrase – an inconvenience to be glossed over.

We have history in Kenya. We have a long list of political assassinations to our debit. Among those murdered we have Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki and Robert Ouko, all killed because of their threat to the presidential status quo. We have Crispin Mbai, chairman in 2003 of the Bomas devolution committee, which in forming a new Constitution was an enormous potential threat to the presidential status quo.

And now we have Chris Msando, whose expertise was perhaps going to deliver the first free-and-fair elections we’ve ever had (except in 2002) and who was therefore also a great threat to the presidential status quo. Never mind. Accept and move on. No one’s making a fuss about Msando – least of all foreign observer missions, who are supposed to be able to connect the dots.

You also say that the elections relied “heavily on a number of private companies and their systems”. Did this opaqueness not give you pause for thought? Did you call out the electoral commission on it? Did you speak out vociferously against the fact that the ballot-paper printing contract was given out in an equally opaque manner to a friend of the executive somewhere in Dubai? Did you condemn the fact that the media were prevented from broadcasting constituency results, even though the law says that these are final?

Did you heck! You “observed”. And you observed like the three monkeys – hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Even when one key stakeholder was raising serious concerns about the transmission process, you contented yourself by saying, as quoted in the Daily Nation of August 11, that, “Soon, names of those who won and those who will be disappointed will be known. It is a sign of leadership to congratulate your opponent with grace.” (Thanks for that condescending advice.)

And when the election was over, you ran to Bomas to validate a process you did not even understand – congratulating the ‘winner’ and begging Raila Odinga to concede. You couldn’t wait to sanitise a polluted process.

As it is, the opposition has been vindicated in its claims of ‘foul’. And it became clear as soon as observer missions began backtracking that ‘scrutiny’ and ‘foreign observer missions’ were not words to be used in the same sentence.

The New York Times has been humbled and compelled to apologise for its gross misrepresentation of electoral events in Kenya. We could do with similar humility from the foreign observer missions, rather than apologia trying to justify what cannot be justified.

Finally, you say that “just as democracy-building is a work in progress, so too is election observation”.

I’ll say! Perhaps you could kindly try a bit harder to bring it up to standard, and then you can stop disastrously using Kenya as a training ground.

* SARAH ELDERKIN is a freelance journalist.



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